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Trouble-shooting Infertility Problems in Cattle
Trouble-shooting Infertility Problems in Cattle
By Michael O'Connor
David Griswold
Richard Adams
Larry Hutchinson
Repeat Breeding:
High Incidence of Cows Requiring Three or More Services
  1. Improper timing of insemination--breeding too early or too late.
  2. Frequently inseminating cattle based on secondary signs of estrus.
  3. High incidence of uterine infection.
  4. Improper insemination technique or use of semen damaged during storage or handling.
  5. Embryonic or fetal mortality.
    1. Excessive weight loss or poor body condition.
    2. Improper palpation technique during pregnancy exams.
    3. Heat stress.
    4. Inseminating cows too late in relation to ovulation.
    5. Deficient crude protein or excess degradable protein intake.
    6. Gross over-conditioning.
  6. Diseases
    1. Subclinical uterine infection.
    2. Vibriosis and trichomoniasis in natural breeding.
    3. Leptospirosis and haemophilus.
    4. Viruses (IBR/IPV, BVD) and maybe others.
    5. Ureaplasma and mycoplasma.
  7. Toxicity (i.e., ketone bodies, mycotoxins, high blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and endotoxins).
  8. Imbalance of calcium, phosphorus, vitamins A, D, and E and carotene.
  9. Anemia.
  10. Hormonal imbalance (i.e., intake of forages high in estrogen).
  11. Use of low breeding efficiency sires.
  12. Improper use of drugs or hormones that impact reproductive function.
  1. Evaluate the heat detection program and timing of service.
  2. Use Milk Progesterone Testing to evaluate accuracy of heat detection.
  3. Submit blood samples or reproductive tract swabs for disease testing.
  4. Have veterinarian examine repeat breeders; treat if infection is present. (See suggestions for uterine infection, page 3).
  5. Re-evaluate semen handling and insemination techniques. Attend retraining session for artificial insemination technique.
  6. Analyze milk samples for milk urea nitrogen (MUN) through local DHIA service center. Submit blood samples for CBC (complete blood count), including serum minerals.
  7. Test forages and the total mixed ration (TMR) for standard analysis, minerals and mycotoxins if suspected.
  8. Submit feeding program for evaluation and check basic feeding practices (i.e., feed availability).
  9. Avoid gross overfeeding of grain.
  10. If possible, provide cows with adequate amounts of fresh forage as pasture or greenchop for at least four to six weeks each year.
  11. Avoid moldy or apparently high-estrogen forages.
  12. Purchase semen from reputable sources.
  13. Review use of drugs and/or hormones administered to breeding stock.
  14. Evaluate vaccination and biosecurity practices and protocols.
Estrus is not Exhibited or Estrus is not Observed
  1. Undetected heat symptoms in normal cow.
    1. Failure to properly observe for estrus.
    2. Failure to keep adequate records.
    3. Failure to turn cows out of stanchion barns.
    4. Few open cows within a group that are available to detect heat in other open cows--pregnant cows and cows in midcycle are much less likely to mount cows in or near heat.
    5. Feet and leg problems, lameness.
    6. Slippery footing.
    7. Unfamiliarity with symptoms of estrous behavior.
    8. Quiet heats or silent heats (normal ovulation with little or no sign of heat).
  2. True anestrus: estrus is not occurring.
    1. Energy deficiency, cows losing large amounts of flesh due to high milk production and/or underfeeding and low dry matter intake.
    2. Anemia, often from inadequate protein, iron, selenium or vitamin E.
    3. Phosphorus deficiency, especially in heifers or excess phosphorus.
    4. Poor endocrine tone from stored forage only, no fresh forage; lack of fat-soluble vitamins, plant hormones and antihormones.
    5. Pyometra and severe uterine infection. Cows may or may not show discharge and generally do not cycle.
    6. Pregnancy.
    7. Cystic ovarian disease--70% of cystic cows are anestrus.
  1. Examine suspect cows to determine whether they are truly anestrus, i.e., absence of ovarian structures, cysts, pyometritis, etc.
  2. Maintain adequate reproductive records and use heat expectancy chart. Milk Progesterone Testing can be used to evaluate heat detection.
  3. Closely observe cows for heat for at least 20 minutes each time. More heats will be shown in evening and early morning than at mid-day. Provide good footing in heat detection area.
  4. In conventional housing situations, turn cows out at least daily. Determine which cows are pregnant and concentrate efforts on open cows.
  5. Use heat detection aids.
  6. Check problem cows for anemia:
  7. Run CBC, which includes hemoglobin, packed cell volume, red and white blood cell counts.
  8. Submit unclotted samples from 12 to 21 cows, including dry cows and early lactation cows. Use a local hospital, veterinary clinic or a PA Animal Diagnostic Lab for blood determinations.
  9. Check serum mineral, protein and BUN or MUN levels. Submit 2 tubes of clotted blood per cow or 10 cc of serum per cow. Sample about 12 to 21 cows. Do not sample treated cows, those within one week of expected calving or those fresh less than three weeks. Forward samples to an animal diagnostic laboratory.
  10. Submit forage and/or TMR samples for standard analysis and mineral tests.
  11. Submit feed program for evaluation. Carefully examine protein, mineral and vitamin levels.
  12. Examine cows for uterine infection. Prevent retained placenta and reproductive tract infections as given on pages 3 and 4.
  13. Whenever possible, have cows in a gaining condition as desired breeding time approaches.
  14. Control periparturient disease problems, especially ketosis.
  15. Provide cows with adequate amounts of fresh forage for at least four to six weeks each year.
  16. Ensure pregnancy exams are conducted routinely, 40 to 50 days after breeding.
  17. Treat for anemia if determined to be a problem.
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